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Coal Carrier, Berlin
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© J. Paul Getty Trust

August Sander
German, Berlin, 1929
Gelatin silver prints
9 1/2 x 6 in.
84.XM.126.52

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August Sander, whose systematic documentation of the German people included manual laborers, captured this unshaven coal carrier stepping out of a building with his burden slung over his shoulder. According to Sander's hierarchical theory, the laborer's place was on the lower rungs of society. By photographing his subject emerging from a dark basement, Sander underscored his theory quite literally.

In this image, the doorway framing the laborer sets a boundary between the bright light of day and the shadowy depths behind him. The man's bent leg, which seems to propel him forward, lends dynamism to a composition that might otherwise have been static.